MPs want President-elect sworn after 21 days of vote: Malawi tripartite elections bill

Majority opposition lawmakers spoke in chorus for the Tripartite Elections Bill – which will enable the country to hold three elections, the presidential, parliamentary and local government in 2014, should be send back to government for refinement.

Minister of Justice Ralph Kasambara tabled the Bill No. 9 of 2013: Parliamentary and Presidential Elections (Amendment) which seeks to amend the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act so as to harmonise the Act with other electoral laws .

But legislators mainly opposition raised a number of concerns and suggestion that the bill should take on board before passing it.

Making his contribution, MCP Spokesperson on legal matters, Alekeni Wodala Menyani, said the period during which time a complaint can be lodged after the conducting of an elections should be 14 days. The current time is 48 hours but the Electoral Commission, according to the bill are proposing 7 days.

Kamwendo: President should be sworn in after 21 days of voting
Kamwendo: President should be sworn in after 21 days of voting

Menyani said in 14 days a complainant would “ be in a position to gather information, evidence and whatever issues they would want to attach to the affidavits that they would to present in a court of law.”

He said MCP would have liked that the swearing in time also be factored into the Bill.

Menyani also said  most Malawians during consultations had requested the Electoral Commission to close voting at 4.30 p.m. so that the preparations for counting and everything starts to be done in day light.

DPP spokesman on legal affairs Steven Kamwendo backed the idea of closing voting earlier than the current 6pm.

“If voting takes place between 6 o’clock to 4 p.m. seems to be very ideal because counting will take place when there is day light and at the same time if ballot boxes are to be transported from point A to point B, they are being transported during the day through which all the monitors have the ability of the day were not having problems,” he said

Kamwendo also added his voice of not rushing into inauguration of the president-elect.

“Most of the countries within Africa and outside Africa, some go even as far as 21 days before a President is sworn in.  Why don’t we try to borrow a leaf out of this sort of thing.  I know Malawi Electoral Commission is proposing seven days, but within seven days perhaps it is not time long enough to amass evidence if at all there are some irregularities during the voting time, “he said.

UDF chief whip, Dr Clement Chiwaya expressed concern with the specific role that security agents have during the voting period.

“In the last elections, for example, in Mangochi, we saw tanks from the Army patrolling streets,” Chiwaya told the House, adding that “construed as intimidation.”

“Again even the police, the way they conduct themselves, shoving monitors trying to push them away from the voting process could be construed as intimidation.”

Chiwaya also supported   the change in the voting time.

“ We have real remote areas where transportation of these ballot boxes takes place very late in the night and to get to the tally center takes a long time.  It is important that each and every step that we take during these elections has to be as credible as possible.  It is therefore our wish to see that the voting time is from 6:00 a.m. to 16:00 or 16:30 p.m. then the counting of votes starts,” he said.

On the issue of swearing in, Chiwaya said it should not be a rushed event as it were.

“The swearing in in Malawi seems to be rushed.  Usually even the preparations for swearing in happens two weeks, three weeks and within hours of the announcement of the results we find that the winner is already at the stadium being sworn in.  This does not provide enough time for people to question certain processes that have taken place,” he said.

“First Deputy Speaker, Sir, if we are going to dwell in the past, we cannot progress in this country. It is very unfortunate that some people continue to leave in their past so much so that we cannot develop.  This is the whole reason why we are talking of agenda for change.  We really need to change things in this country.  In fact as a nation we have an opportunity to look at things differently and forge ahead differently.  If we continue to live in the past we are going to stagnate and remain where we are,” said Chiwaya.

He added: “I cannot defend what happened in the past even if it was done by UDF.  If it is wrong I am going to say it is wrong. “

Member of Parliament for Balaka South and president of Mafunde, George Nnesa also added his weight in  supporting  that the swearing in ceremony for president-elect  should be given enough time and propose that the President-elect should not be sworn-in within 21 days.

“That gives enough time for all issues to be resolved. There is no danger that the out-going president will plunder resources because the out-going President, will be at risk of prosecution as soon as he/she goes out of power,” said Nnesa.

Lilongwe Msozi South MCP MP, Vitus  Dzoole Mwale also supported the extension of time for the swearing-in ceremony.

“  We from the Malawi Congress Party for example have always assumed and we had evidence in all elections that our party has been winning all the General Elections. We have always been winning General Elections but because time has been a limiting factor, we have not been able to lodge our complaints or allow the courts to look into that.  With the extension of the time now, I am sure there will be no more rigging in the process,” he said.

Dzoole Mwale also proposed  that the announcement of the results should be done at the polling centre other than waiting to take the ballot boxes to the District Commissioners (DCs) , saying “this encourages rigging.”

He said: “We would like the results to be announced within the constituency and polling centres.  The ballot boxes should not be removed from the constituency unless the results are announced.  We would like to have pompo-pompo results.”

The other issue that lawmakers expressed concern with was the nomination fees of the candidates, saying they oppose to raising the figure and that it should not be refunded.

Nnesa noted: “Raising the fees and the amount itself may not bring the best people into Parliament.  Not all the people who have got the money are sensible enough to come in here.

“Maybe we should look at the level of education as a measure for the quality of people that would get into Parliament. I would support those who say that the fees have to be refundable. “

Nnesa said “determination of the fees should be in consultation with the political parties.  We do not want the Electoral Commission to be used to oppress those who cannot raise certain amount of fees.”

He pointed out that in the past, the Electoral Commission “has been accused of being used by the government to raise the fees because the party in power has got access to public funds to give to its candidates.”

Responding to the concerns, Minister of Justice. Kasambara, explained that the proposal of non-refundable nomination fees is coming in to cover the costs of running the polls.

“The cost of running elections is not just borne by this country. We depend on 40 per cent of the funds coming from international development partners.  That cannot continue.  We should start now managing our own elections and we must pay for those services,” said Kasambara.

On closing voting earlier, Kasambara argued: “ The first thing to understand is that if you close the polling centres too early, we will end up disfranchising a lot of Malawians.”

Meanwhile, the Local Government Elections Bill which also seeks to harmonise the laws with the other electoral laws, has been passed.

Malawi’s bilateral partners have also urged government to take board stand on tripartite elections, saying they are complex and require adequate preparation.

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